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Political and External Affairs

CHAPTER 16 — A Second Front

page 207

A Second Front

THE astonishment of New Zealanders–as of the rest of the world–at the news of the Japanese attacks was not due to lack of warning. The likelihood of a southward thrust by Japan had long been a commonplace of political discussion. Her renewed attack on China in 1937 and her subsequent conduct of the China ‘incident’ was fresh in mind during the early days of the war. Indeed, among New Zealanders interested in the Far East there was, if anything, a tendency to simplify the problem, stressing the difficulties genuinely facing Tokyo and under-emphasising the factors which might have led to compromise solutions. When war came in 1939, New Zealand thankfully took advantage of Japan's revulsion against the Russo-German Pact, and hoped that her neutrality would continue. Yet the obvious calculation was widely made: that Japan would take advantage of the European war to push her own cause, and each reverse for the Western Powers in the European theatre would be followed by pressure against their possessions in the East. So, in fact, it turned out. In 1940 and 1941 the newspapers periodically gave full reports of Japan's diplomatic and military progress, to which was added, as the months passed, news of America's growing counter-measures. In the main this information, and newspaper comment upon it, was marked by the characteristic pre-war New Zealand attitude of detachment. These things were happening; many of them were grievous; but they were occurrences in another world.

It was not so very long since New Zealanders in their hearts had viewed even Europe in this way: a stage on which a fascinating drama took place, but a drama which, if it affected the Dominion at all, did so with uncontrollable fatality; New Zealand suffered impacts from an outer world which was utterly remote from New Zealand influence. This passive colonial attitude was not unchallenged in the nineteenth century and it gradually lost its dominance, though not its influence, between the two wars. It was vigorously challenged on the one hand by J. G. Coates, and on the other by the leaders of the Labour Party; and it was eaten away by New Zealand's growing national consciousness in the ten years that followed the great depression. It clung longest in relation to the ‘Far’ East; yet in page 208 newspaper and parliamentary comment there appeared increasing reminders of New Zealand's involvement in Pacific issues. And these were reinforced from time to time by broad hints from political leaders. As early as January 1940 Fraser said publicly with unusual bluntness that Japan was a potential enemy, against whom Britain was New Zealand's sole protector.1 A year later Coates, then a member of War Cabinet, and Fraser himself reminded New Zealanders with some force, if with circumlocution, that New Zealand was seriously threatened by developments in the Pacific as well as by the current crisis in the European theatre.2 In July the Leader of the Opposition called off a parliamentary debate largely on the ground that the Pacific situation ‘has become too grave to permit of party wrangling3.’ As the crisis approached, official warnings became about as plain as was possible when the prospective attacker was still technically friendly, and when delicate negotiations were still in hand.4 Finally, when chastising the Opposition for playing party politics, Fraser on 4 December said that he was hourly expecting ‘the most serious developments in the Pacific’;5 he had been told on 30 November of the message just sent to American naval and military authorities in the Pacific that ‘an aggressive move is expected by Japan, possibly within the next few days6.’

Such warnings were sufficiently explicit; moreover, in view of the generally accepted interpretation of the character of the Japanese Government, it would have been foolhardy to expect Japan to yield tamely to the acute pressure applied to them since July. These facts were realised, New Zealand opinion certainly hardened towards Japan, and an awareness of danger spread gradually among the community. Yet public understanding lagged far behind the pace of events. Looking back, responsible men were astonished to recall the ‘apathy’ and ‘stupor’ of New Zealanders in the face of danger. The Prime Minister, said a prominent legislative councillor in March 1942,7had given warning in October 1941, but the people ‘simply did not believe it. They preferred to go about their business as usual, and they would not, even at that stage, bring themselves to a realisation of the position, or bring themselves even to examine the warnings which had been given to them.’ These were strong words by an angry man. New Zealanders were not alone in being deceived by the Japanese timetable. If they paid too little attention

1 AucklandStar, 19 Jan 1940; Press, 20 Jan 1940.

2 Otago Daily Times, 8 and 15 Feb 1941.

3 NZPD, Vol. 259, p. 522.

4 Coates, Press, 20 Aug 1941; Fraser, Press, 24 and 25 Oct 1941; Fraser, New Zealand Herald, 21 Nov 1941.

5 Evening Post, 5 Dec 1941.

6 SSDA to PM NZ, 30 Nov 1941; cf. Chapter 13.

7 W. Perry, later member of War Cabinet, NZPD, Vol. 261, pp. 71–2.

page 209 to the Pacific arena this was only in part due to their affection for peacetime ways of living. It was in part at least due to preoccupations with critical events in Europe and Africa, where the New Zealand Division, after anxious preparation, went into action in the very days when fateful decisions were reached in Tokyo and Washington. Yet New Zealand's reaction to the new crisis was conditioned by the abruptness as well as the success of the Japanese attack.

These successes were startling enough, even when filtered by censorship. New Zealanders were well accustomed to bad tidings, and to reading between the lines. Their wildest fears scarcely touched the reality of Japanese success at Pearl Harbour; yet they realised well enough that a crippling blow had been struck at the United States Pacific Fleet, and that Japanese forces had landed in Malaya and the Philippines. The arrival at Singapore of two capital ships, Prince of Wales and Repulse, was a relief and encouragement. On 10 December both were lost, and in the days that followed the Japanese made spectacular advances in both Malaya and the Philippines. As Churchill commented at the time, American and British losses had almost overnight given the Japanese ‘full battle-fleet command of Pacific. They can attack with any force overseas at any point1.’ Though no one said as much in public, fears fermented in men's minds, and enough was published to make the whole situation tolerably clear.

The war thus acquired a shocking and unprecedented immediacy for the mass of New Zealanders, and the ill-equipped men watching the beaches had very genuine fears of actual invasion. On the whole the reaction of the public–like that of the Government–was less violent in New Zealand than in Australia. There was, however, some very sharp newspaper criticism of those responsible for the higher direction of the war. For instance, on 29 January 1942 the New Zealand Herald commented bitterly on Churchill's statement that ‘while facing Germany and Italy we never had sufficient arms to provide effectively for the defence of the Far East.’ Why, then, asked the Herald, had the countries now menaced by Japan not been told of this and why had India, Australia and New Zealand been ‘allowed to continue the despatch of fighting-men to the Middle East and to Britain?’ Why ‘did the Allies adopt a policy towards Japan that made war inevitable?’ While ‘the conclusion cannot be escaped that the primary responsibility for provoking war with Japan rests upon President Roosevelt’, Churchill was also blamed for failing to assure himself that an adequate defence would be forthcoming for British territories in the East. It was tough comment. The pro-

1 Churchill, Vol. III, p. 554.

page 210 secution
of the Herald for publishing it seems to have been seriously considered, though this was abandoned on legal advice.

The Herald's comments were, of course, exceptional; most editorial comment was both calmer and less well-informed. But there does seem to have been at this time, as was natural enough, ‘a growing feeling of discontent and frustration among many people over the trend of recent events1.’ The phrase was used by S. G. Holland, Leader of the Opposition, in describing the impressions formed during a recent tour through New Zealand. At the end of January Fraser cabled to Churchill that without fighter protection for Auckland and Wellington ‘the government may have to face serious repercussions in the morale of the public, which may lead to an appreciable diminution in the total war effort2.’

Moreover, restiveness in Australia and New Zealand was stimulated by the consequences of the principle of ‘beating Germany first’ which had been formulated by Anglo-American service planning early in 1941,3 and confirmed by Churchill and Roosevelt at their recent meeting. On 7 February Fraser cabled to Churchill that ‘I feel you should be told that the ill-informed comments emanating recently from America and elsewhere concerning the very large forces retained inactive in the United Kingdom as compared with the needs elsewhere, the despatch of American troops to Northern Ireland, and the use of Dominion forces in the Middle East have been taken up with some force in this Dominion and were indeed reflected, with some degree of embarrassment to us, at the secret session of Parliament yesterday.’ Commenting on the news that the New Zealand Division had just been ordered to move for a full operational role in the Western Desert–an order cancelled on New Zealand's protest–Fraser added that coming after heavy losses suffered by the Division in the fighting at the end of 1941 this might well add point ‘to a demand that the New Zealand Forces should be returned to the Pacific area to meet the danger nearer home4.’

This cable was an appeal to Churchill for information wherewith to answer current criticism. There was, in fact, enough public uneasiness to cause concern to the Government, and it naturally increased as the victorious progress of the Japanese continued through February and March. Nevertheless, Fraser could fairly report to Churchill on 11 February that public opinion was sound and was ‘reacting healthily to bad news5.’ There was much less

1 Dominion, 20 Jan 1942.

2 PM NZ to PM UK, 30 Jan 1942.

3 McNeill, p. 8.

4 Documents, II, p. 93.

5 Ibid., p. 96.

page 211 suggestion of hysteria than there had been in the crisis of mid-1940. A number of public meetings were held, for example, particularly in rural districts in the northern half of the North Island. They had, however, less of a political flavour than those of 1940 and, as was to be expected, were more concerned with the immediate task of improvising methods of defence against invasion. Their inspiration was a mushroom ‘Awake, New Zealand’ movement, which was launched in Hamilton towards the end of February. Its main practical activity was to secure funds for the manufacture in Hamilton of arms and equipment for the Home Guard. It was, said the Prime Minister, an exciting expression of democracy in action; and for two or three months it expressed with great vigour the public will to action without becoming harnessed to party politics. It then faded naturally away.1

Another current of opinion was expressed at the annual conference of the Federation of Labour at the beginning of April. This showed that there was general resentment among the trade unions–or at least among their leadership–at the degree to which the New Zealand Government was believed to have acquiesced in the British Government's war policy. A motion recommended by the national executive, and adopted unanimously by the conference, urged a more critical attitude; and Angus McLagan, president of the Federation, who was shortly to become a member of cabinet, urged the Government to follow the example of the Australian Government. This, he said, was ‘standing on its own legs’ instead of ‘refraining from criticism where criticism is not only justified but absolutely necessary2.’

Too much stress should not be laid upon public criticisms of war policy in the early part of 1942. They played their part in the formation of the War Administration later in the year, but–except in so far as members of the Government shared the general feeling–it does not seem that the Government's defence policy was influenced by them in anything like the way it had been when conscription was introduced eighteen months earlier. Public opinion, if not tranquil, was not cantankerous, nor was there substantial, organised criticism with concrete purposes. This time the Government led the way instead of being driven.

The possibility–indeed the ultimate probability–of Japanese hostility was a factor never absent from the thinking on defence of the New Zealand Government and its technical advisers. The situation was anxiously weighed before the first echelon of the Expeditionary Force was despatched, and, said the Chiefs of Staff on

1 Northern Advocate, 13 May 1942; Evening Post, 31 Mar 1942; HaweraStar, 21 May 1942.

2 Standard, 9 Apr 1942.

page 212 23 February 1940, it was assumed that, if Japan entered the war, ‘defence of New Zealand … will take precedence over the maintenance of 2 N.Z.E.F.’ When the fall of France left New Zealand with little prospect of British protection against a Japanese move southwards, the whole problem had to be surveyed again. The Government spent anxious weeks considering whether or not to despatch overseas the third echelon of the Expeditionary Force. If, it reflected, ‘the Third Echelon leaves this Dominion there is at the present moment no force available in this country whose training is in any way comparable with that of the Third Echelon, which is in itself only partially trained… the absence of trained troops in adequate numbers would be a particular disadvantage here in case of attack because of the length of New Zealand's coastline and the numerous harbours and open beaches offering ready facilities for a landing… the Third Echelon on departure would naturally take with it a proportion of the available supplies of arms and equipment, already far from adequate1.’ However, the Government accepted the view that ‘in the last resort this Dominion must stand or fall according to the decision in the main theatres of war, and that as a corollary it would be wise to have all possible forces at decisive points….’; and they ardently desired to concentrate the New Zealand Division as soon as possible. The decision was accordingly taken that the Third Echelon should proceed, as the British Government wished, to the Middle East. From the reinforcements that would otherwise have gone with it, however, three thousand men were withheld to provide a force that it had been decided at the beginning of June to send to Fiji.2 This force, 8 Brigade Group, was garrisoned at Fiji at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbour.

The arguments that presented themselves for and against the despatch of the Third Echelon show how very difficult was the problem of home defence during this period and, indeed, why no effective land force had been built up by December 1941. Apart from men in camp as reinforcements for the NZEF the country was dependent at that time on the Territorial Force, supplemented by the National Military Reserve. Of the National Military Reserve, 1150 members had been permanently mobilised as coastwatchers or guards for vital points. Its 7800 other members received only about a week or ten days' training each year. It was a voluntary force and its membership was rather mixed as far as age groups and medical gradings were concerned, though it included a large number of returned soldiers of the First World War.

1 GGNZ to SSDA, 3 Aug 1940; Documents, I, p. 171.

2 Ibid., p. 172, and O. A. Gillespie, The Pacific, p. 22.

page break
colour map of south west pacific

South-West Pacific

page 213

The Territorial Force itself was about 31,000 strong, but still suffered from the disorganisation caused by the withdrawal of men for the Division overseas. At first, separate ballots covering the same classes of men had been held for home and overseas service. Since men called in Territorial ballots found themselves later called in overseas ballots, which naturally had first priority, entry into the Territorial Force was later restricted to men not eligible for service in the NZEF–that is, men medically unfit for overseas service, youths of 18 to 20 and men of 41 to 45. Single men only were affected, as the Government had not begun to call up married men for service either within New Zealand or overseas. The Territorial Force was not mobilised, but its members received three months' initial training, two weeks' annual camp, and out-of-camp parades. General Sir Guy Williams, called in by the New Zealand Government to report on the defence of the country, criticised the composition of this force, and observed that it was not fit for active service and with its existing tempo of training never could be. He made recommendations for its improvement, some of which were being put into effect when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour.1 At that time, 5700 Territorials were mobilised, and the remainder of the force was due to enter camp within the next few months to begin the two months' annual training which had been recommended by Williams.

The means of stopping an enemy force from reaching the country were as slender as those for dealing with it once it arrived. So far as naval defence was concerned, ships could not be concentrated for its defence until the threat really arose. But the activities of German raiders in the Pacific in the latter part of 1940 were a painful reminder of the Dominion's exposure, and there was a tantalising memory of the thirty Wellington bombers on order for New Zealand which had been placed at the disposal of the British Government at the outbreak of war. Reminding Churchill of this on 4 December 1940, Fraser observed that We have constantly borne in mind the necessity of taking a large view and of balancing our needs with those elsewhere in the common cause, but we wonder if it is fully realised in the United Kingdom how helpless this Dominion is against attacks from seaward. As you know, the whole of our defence measures were built on the assurance that in time of potential trouble in these waters adequate naval forces would be available. They are not. We make no complaint of this and we have very much welcomed your assurance that if the worse came to the worst naval assistance would be forthcoming. But at present local naval forces are far from adequate to protect New

1 Memorandum for War Cabinet, 3 Jul 1941.

page 214 Zealand shores and shipping against attack, and it is a plain fact that at present the New Zealand Air Force possess not one single aircraft suitable either for reconnaissance or for attack against a raider at any substantial distance from the shores of New Zealand.’ His plea, not for the first time, was for a few Hudsons to use against raiders and Churchill promised to meet it.1 By December 1941 thirty-six of these aircraft had arrived in New Zealand.

Preparations within New Zealand were, of course, supplemented so far as possible by consultations with probable allies. In particular, a series of service conferences in Singapore between October 1940 and April 1941 did something to co-ordinate the planning of Britain and the Dominions with that of the United States and the Dutch.2 The actual outbreak of war, however, and Japan's devastating initial success, confronted the New Zealand service chiefs with new and anxious calculations. Unfortunately, records of the advice given to the Government by its Chiefs of Staff in the crucial period just after Pearl Harbour are incomplete. It appears, however, that on 8 December they argued that the danger of hit-and-run raids by the Japanese should not be allowed ‘to contain us in such a way that we are unable to exercise our full effort to the best advantage….’ Consequently the reinforcements for the NZEF should not be held back if adequate naval escorts were available, nor was the mobilisation of the Territorial Force necessary; though some 4600 fortress troops should be mobilised. At about the same date they ‘expressed the opinion that until Singapore fell and until the United States naval forces suffered a major defeat, invasion of New Zealand was most improbable, and … in their opinion six months must elapse before there could be any danger of invasion of New Zealand.’ On 30 December they revised this estimate. ‘They still regarded invasion of New Zealand as improbable and still held that a major defeat of the United States fleet was an essential condition. But as such a defeat could conceivably occur in a matter of hours, it then became a question as to how long it would take Japan to capture Singapore and also to prepare an expedition of the size required for invasion of New Zealand, and the estimate of three months was arrived at3.’

Three months was a desperately short time to improvise a fighting force of the size required to defend New Zealand, and action was immediate. Mobilisation was ordered for 10 January.4 Even before

1 PM UK to PM NZ, 14 Dec 1940.

2 General Percival's report, Supplement to the London Gazette of 26 Feb 1948; Gillespie, pp. 11, 14.

3 Memorandum from GOC to Minister of Defence, 3 Aug 1942; Fraser to Churchill, 12 Jan 1942.

4 CGS to Freyberg, 2 Jan 1942.

page 215 the Japanese attacked, the Government had approved an expansion of Territorial strength to 38,700, and this was now increased to 66,000. On 20 January a gazette was issued calling up married men without children for home service, and on 29 January War Cabinet endorsed recommendations of the Defence and Military Affairs Committee of the War Council that future call-ups should be for general service–both within and without New Zealand. New Zealand's land defence was reorganised, as General Williams had recommended, on a ‘one army basis’, and its strength rose rapidly. By the end of March the figure was 67,000,1 or about the equivalent of three divisions; but by this stage the official estimate was that six divisions were required for the defence of the country; and of these six it seemed that only one could be secured from abroad.
These drastic demands on New Zealand's manpower precipitated the virtual extension of conscription into civilian life. Power to control the labour force of the Dominion had existed since mid-1940, when the National Service Regulations gave the Minister of National Service power to require any person over sixteen years of age to perform any non-military service necessary for the war effort. The Government had laid some emphasis on this vast power, principally it would seem as a demonstration to Labour supporters that the new measures did not provide merely for military conscription. After the excitement of mid-1940, however, the provisions for industrial conscription were allowed to sink into the background. As the manpower shortage became acute during 1941 the question of using them was raised; but the view of the Government was that ‘Such direct action tends to antagonise the workers and is unsatisfactory both to themselves and their employers2.’ On 28 November 1941, however, the National Service Department reported that the output of essential industries ‘already working with labour forces at a bare minimum’ was likely to be seriously endangered by the combined effects of military requirements and the competition of less essential industries. The latter danger was ‘chiefly engendered by the unrestricted spiralling of wages offering, particularly in less essential industries favourably placed to entice labour by such means.’ The problem was therefore bound up with that of the stabilisation of wages and prices; but the Department recommended that measures for the control and direction of labour should be introduced.3 It must be assumed that these recommendations would not have been committed to paper unless there was considerable likelihood of their acceptance, but any doubt was

1 Statement of Strengths and Losses in the Armed Services and Mercantile Marine, Parliamentary paper H-19B, 1948, p. 10.

2 Minister of National Service to Secy, Fed. Taranaki Co-op. Dairy Factories, 24 Oct 1941.

3 Director of National Service to Minister of National Service, 28 Nov 1941.

page 216 dissipated by the Japanese attack; and on 10 January 1942 amendments to the National Service regulations provided for the direction of civilian manpower.

However skilfully disposed of, New Zealand's manpower remained minute in face of the enormously increased demand now imposed upon it. In these circumstances nothing could be done to reinforce the New Zealand forces in the Middle East. The 8th Reinforcements were for the time being incorporated into the home army and until December 1942 no more men were sent to the NZEF. On the other hand, the Japanese attack made it necessary to strengthen New Zealand's outlying defences in the Pacific. ‘There was not one anti-aircraft gun in the South West Pacific in November 1941 and the strength of the defences would not have deterred the most irresolute enemy1.’ And the importance of Fiji in particular was being greatly increased by the work on Nandi aerodrome, which was to be one of the landing grounds in the ‘Reinforcement Line’ for American aircraft flying to the Far East. ‘So long as we hold the Islands, large scale operations against New Zealand are unlikely,’ reported the New Zealand Chiefs of Staff on 7 December. Accordingly, another 4000 men were sent to bring up to two-brigade strength the New Zealand force which had been in Fiji since November 1940. Much of the artillery in New Zealand was also sent including, as Fraser cabled Churchill on 24 December,2 ‘the only (four) heavy anti-aircraft guns and the only (four) Bofors guns which we possess’.

Apart from desperate efforts to do what could be done with scanty local resources, the Japanese menace naturally brought big changes in New Zealand's external policy, and led to a new insistence that her voice should be heard in matters concerning the strategy of Pacific warfare. The defence of Fiji was a New Zealand responsibility, and on 24 December3 Fraser urged Churchill, who was then in Washington, to impress upon President Roosevelt the extreme importance of the islands, not solely or primarily as an outpost of the defence of New Zealand, but as an essential link with the United States in the general Allied scheme of operations in the Pacific and the Far East, and to request him to supply as quickly and completely as possible various deficiencies in the equipment of the forces in Fiji and New Zealand. The Dominion's attitude was further expressed with vigour, in a long cable from Fraser to Churchill on 12 January 1942. Fraser recalled that New Zealand had ‘never deviated from a complete recognition of the fact that the critical theatre of war has, up to the present at any

1 Gillespie, p. 42.

2 Ibid., p. 328, Appendix II.

3 Ibid.

page 217 rate, been the European theatre’; and had never let apprehensions about the territorial safety of New Zealand interfere with the ‘primary duty of applying the greatest force that we could provide at the most useful point.’ Nevertheless, he added, ‘to be completely frank, we have not always felt that the potential problems of the Pacific have had the importance attached to them in London which we, more intimately concerned therewith, have considered that they have perhaps deserved. Whether this be so or not, it seems essential that the position in the Pacific should be treated now as one of at least equal importance to that in Europe and in the Middle East….’ He went on to express his disappointment at the failure to set up a unified command for the whole Pacific area, and reiterated his fear that limited commands such as that then about to operate under General Wavell for Burma, Malaya, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies might lead to the Allies being defeated piecemeal.

In the period when the war had its principal manifestations in Europe, continued Fraser, New Zealand had been ‘content very largely to abide by the decisions of the British Government and the British Chiefs of Staff, who were not only closer to the problems but more vitally affected by the repercussions of any immediate decision that was taken. Now, however, that the war has moved to our doorstep, I am sure you will agree that where the matters under discussion are of immediate and direct concern to us there must be some method devised by which we can intelligently form and explicitly express our views before action is taken…. Mr Eden has recently announced that Canada and New Zealand are satisfied with the existing situations in this connection, but this is not strictly accurate. What I said was that I did not consider it feasible for the Prime Ministers of the Dominions to be constantly or substantially in session in London and thus be away from their own more immediate responsibilities, or for one Prime Minister to represent all the Dominions.’

So far as the defence of New Zealand was concerned, the Government which was ‘responsible for the lives and safety of this Dominion’ could not wholly divest itself of this responsibility in favour of expert opinion, however authoritative. It had constantly been maintained in the past by the Chiefs of Staff both in the United Kingdom and New Zealand that there was no ‘immediate large-scale threat to the territory of Australia and much less of New Zealand’, an opinion expressed from London as late as 11 December. ‘Frankly,’ wrote Fraser, ‘we do not accept this, and, even if we did accept it, prudence and the demands of our own people would oblige us to prepare against the worst. He recalled that, page 218 only a few months before, ‘the highest military authority’ pronounced New Zealand and Fiji to be ‘in no danger of serious attack unless in the “unthinkable” contingency of the British and American fleets being driven from the Pacific and Singapore having fallen…. Our reflection on this is that the unthinkable is now in everyone's mind.’ New Zealand, he concluded, had very little knowledge of the intentions of those responsible for the higher direction of the war, practically none of American intentions. ‘We feel we must have an eye, an ear and a voice wherever decisions affecting New Zealand are to be made and we are by no means happy with the arrangements so far as we know them for the conduct of the war against Japan1.’

Churchill replied at length. On the two major points raised, he wrote that he found the idea of a unified command for the Indian and Pacific oceans ‘more attractive in theory than, in my view, it could work out in practice, unless it were possible for the United States Navy Department and British Admiralty, with the Naval Boards of Australia and New Zealand and of the Dutch Government, to be merged into one large united national [sic] Navy Department.’ He was, however, ‘entirely sympathetic’ to the New Zealand desire for a place in the framing of Pacific war policy, and had suggested ‘that a body should be formed in London with representatives, on a Ministerial plane, of the Australian, New Zealand and Dutch Governments’ to deal with major problems concerning the Pacific.2 The Australians had pressed, with even greater vehemence, for a share in the overall strategic planning for the Pacific area; and both the South Pacific dominions felt that Churchill's plan was very far from meeting their needs. In particular, it gave them no direct contact with the American authorities, though it was clear that power in the so-called ‘Anzac’ area–Australia, New Zealand and part of New Guinea–would rest in American hands; unless indeed it were in those of Japan.

The Pacific War Council was duly set up in London, but on the insistence of Australia and New Zealand, Churchill took up with Roosevelt their plea for direct representation at the policy-forming level in Washington.3 The Americans were a good deal less than enthusiastic. They were even less inclined than the British to submit conundrums of high strategy to discussion by a team of smaller

1 At the Churchill-Roosevelt discussions of December 1941 Roosevelt at one stage proposed that Australian, New Zealand and Dutch representatives be attached in an advisory capacity to a committee in Washington which (under Roosevelt and Churchill) would be responsible for the direction of the Pacific war. As ‘everybody and his grandmother’ wanted to be represented on this committee, it was finally decided to assign the job of advising the President to the British and American group known as the Combined Chiefs of Staff.–Hopkins Papers, Vol. I, p. 481.

2 PM UK to PM NZ, 17 Jan 1942.

3 PM NZ to PM UK, 20 and 26 Jan 1942.

page 219 nations, and the American armed forces were always very sensitive to civilian meddling from whatever source. Roosevelt accordingly replied that the general feeling of his Chiefs of Staff was that political matters concerning New Zealand, Australia and the Dutch East Indies should continue to be handled in London and military matters decided in Washington. To add three men representing each of these countries to the joint staff considering ABDA1 problems would create an altogether unwieldy body; but in cases where their interests were concerned the staff would invite the participation of the military missions, whose advice would be ‘considered important and essential in determining the general policies of the war in the ABDA area2.’ The Americans evidently hoped that the wishes of the smaller Pacific powers would be sifted in London, and some coherent and preferably practicable suggestions submitted to Washington. The Americans, with whom lay power and responsibility in the Pacific, would thus have supreme control, consulting with Churchill and a few British experts, but without any suggestion that action must be preceded by a negotiated agreement among half-a-dozen technically independent powers.

The discussions on this problem showed how far New Zealand policy had moved in the three war years. On 6 February Walter Nash, now Minister at Washington, though still a member of the New Zealand cabinet, summed up the Dominion's criticisms of a Far Eastern or Pacific Council in London. The proposal, he wrote, will ‘lead to the formation of a British Commonwealth or sectarian point of view, which will then have to be reconciled from a considerable distance with another sectarian point of view in Washington’. His argument was for a council at Washington to direct the Pacific war, and he urged that New Zealand should continue to press for this ‘not only for our own sakes but for the sake of the common cause. Clinging to pre-war policies and exaggerating present loyalties will not help towards our objective–the winning of the war–and neither policies nor loyalties will matter much if we lose.’ His cable ended, ‘Sir John Dill has just advised me over the telephone that Churchill has announced the setting-up of the Far Eastern Council in London, and I presume we will not say much publicly at present; but it does not appear to me that we can effectively carry on a successful Pacific campaign other than through Washington as suggested.’

New Zealand could do nothing but accept the London Council and Fraser did not press a suggestion from Nash that the

1 The American-British-Dutch-Australian defence area, which was formally placed under the command of General Wavell in December 1941, and which disintegrated with the Japanese victories of the following February.

2 PM UK to PM NZ, 2 Feb 1942.

page 220 Australian, New Zealand and Dutch ministers be summoned in an advisory capacity to all meetings of the Combined Chiefs of Staff. ‘I should be sorry,’ he replied, ‘at this stage … to create any impression at all that we were perhaps trying to by-pass the channels agreed upon, however cumbersome we believe those channels to be1.’ It was decided to move Nash to London, and in the meantime Jordan attended meetings of the Council there which began on 10 February. The whole problem was, however, soon transformed by Japanese victories, and the blotting out of the ABDA command. Singapore fell on 15 February, Rangoon on 7 March, and resistance in the Dutch East Indies ended the day after. The Anzac area now became the forward zone and plans were discussed for its extension and reorganisation. Australia suggested that an Anzac Council be set up in Washington to provide a voice for Australia and New Zealand on operations in this area.2 Not without qualms, New Zealand supported the proposal.3 However, Roosevelt had been taking stock of the consequences of the disappearance of the ABDA area and now proposed a division of responsibility, with America primarily responsible for the Pacific and Britain for the Indian Ocean area. In the new situation a Pacific Council in London and not in Washington became, presumably, too glaring an anomaly, and a Pacific Council was set up in Washington to discuss strategic and supply problems. It was understood that the London Council would deal with political matters.
Both of the councils met fairly regularly until the latter part of 1943. The Washington Council was the better known, but from the nature of the case it seems very doubtful if what was said at either of them played much part in influencing the higher direction of the war. According to a member of one of the diplomatic missions, ‘The meetings of the Council never amounted to much anyway; usually all we did was to listen to Mr Roosevelt discuss what had been going on in the Pacific and we generally already knew what had been told us through earlier talks with the military staffs4.’ The two councils, with their comparatively regular meetings, became useful clearing-houses for information and gave opportunities for airing grievances.5 There was no fulfilment of the naive hope that some institution such as a Pacific Council in Washington would give to small countries a more effective voice there than they already possessed through diplomatic and military representation.6 The issue,

1 PM to Nash, 19 Feb 1942.

2 PM Aust. to PM NZ, 1 and 5 Mar 1942.

3 PM NZ to PM UK, 6 Mar 1942.

4 Dominion, 19 Dec 1944.

5 McNeill, p. 156.

6 Brigadier A. B. Williams became New Zealand Army representative in the British Joint Staff Mission in February 1942.–Gillespie, pp. 30, 60.

page 221 however, provided the clearest illustration of New Zealand's sense, in the critical months of 1942, that her immediate destiny was being decided not in London but in Washington.

New Zealand was naturally gratified to be told in March 1942 that a Pacific Council was to be set up in Washington, but another detail of the reorganisation made in the same month was much less welcome to her. It was decided to divide the Pacific into the Southwest Pacific area stretching from Australia northward to the Philippines, and under the command of General MacArthur, and the Pacific Ocean area under Admiral Nimitz, Commander of the United States Pacific Fleet. The Pacific Ocean area was subdivided into three, and it was in the southern of these areas that New Zealand and the island groups to the north of her were included. Both New Zealand and Australia were most dissatisfied at this separation. Nevertheless, plans for the garrisoning of the South Pacific were promptly completed in Washington and at the end of March Nash reported from Washington that some of the forces destined there had already been despatched. He concluded that there was no hope of the arrangement being altered, and suggested that ‘To insist now that the naval plans for New Zealand and the Islands and contemplated naval operations should be placed under the control of MacArthur would … extend the delays and differences which we have been trying to clear up1.’ Wellington agreed that the best course was to register a protest, but to accept the arrangement and do all possible to make it work.2

This incident showed clearly where lay the lines of authority and responsibility in the Pacific area. When America entered the war, Roosevelt and Churchill reached a broad understanding that the strategic direction of the war as a whole (except, of course, operations in Russia) would be in the hands of the Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee, sitting in Washington. This comprised the American Chiefs of Staff, together with three senior officers who acted under instructions from the British Chiefs of Staff. Any differences of opinion would be adjusted by personal agreement between President and Prime Minister.3 Under this general authority, however, blocks of responsibility were assigned to other bodies; and control over the Pacific, including the commands of both MacArthur and Nimitz, was placed directly in the hands of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff.4 Technically the Joint Chiefs of Staff dealt with service matters only; yet their decisions inevitably had great political importance and were partly at least guided by

1 Nash to PM, 27 Mar 1942.

2 PM NZ to Nash, 28 Mar 1942.

3 Churchill to House of Commons, 27 Jan 1942.

4 McNeill, p. 157.

page 222 political considerations. Accordingly, when Australia and New Zealand wished to influence the plans which concerned them so closely, they had to do so in one of two ways: at the very highest level, through Churchill or direct to Roosevelt; and on the professional level, through military liaison with the Chiefs of Staff. Neither channel was particularly easy, and neither gave much hope of that process of consultation and conference which was in principle the life blood of the British Commonwealth. Moreover, nothing which could be said by the Dominions was likely to shake the long-established principle of Anglo-American strategy–‘beat Germany first’. Yet American control, and American insistence that victory in the Atlantic took precedence, did not leave them, in Churchill's phrase, forgotten or ‘comfortless in your hour of peril’, or dependent on purely military calculations.1 In the darkest days of March 1942 there was apparently serious talk of abandoning Australia and New Zealand to the enemy. In Admiral King's phrase, however, ‘We cannot in honor let Australia and New Zealand down. They are our brothers, and we must not allow them to be overrun by Japan.’ Roosevelt agreed.2 The crisis, if indeed the plan were taken seriously, passed.

Whatever New Zealand's hopes of ultimate succour, the situation in the early months of 1942 was frightening enough. Having long underestimated Japan's striking, power, the experts now tended to exaggerate it.3 Moreover, there were grounds for expecting a strong thrust southwards: on 8 January 1942, for instance, the American authorities told New Zealand that an attack on Fiji by a division and four aircraft-carriers could be expected at any time after 10 January.4 In February the New Zealand Government argued strongly that the Japanese, having conquered the Netherlands Indies, were more likely to attack Australia than India. Australia was after all the obvious base for an Allied counter-attack; ‘it seems to follow that New Zealand must become a base also, and, especially having regard to the vulnerability of Australian bases, it may well become the main base.’ It was essential therefore to hold both New Zealand, whose relative isolation made it potentially a most secure base, and Fiji, which was ‘an essential link on the line of air communication and a potential naval base.’ ‘If they both fall, the prospect of adequately conducting from the United States effective operations in the Mid- and South West Pacific areas seems to us to become exceedingly thin5.’

1 Cf. statement of necessity for instant action to save Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand and New Caledonia.–Eisenhower to Marshall, 14 Dec 1941. Quoted Munro, Foreign Affairs, July 1953, p. 635.

2 Morison, US Naval Operations, Vol. IV, p. 246.

3 Gillespie, p. 61.

4 PM NZ to PM UK, 12 Jan 1942; Gillespie, p. 61.

5 PM NZ to PM UK, 17 Feb 1942.

page 223

Thinking thus, the New Zealand Government was alarmed to find that military opinion in London still apparently expected that the next Japanese move would be west towards India and north towards Burma.1 It would follow that any attack on New Zealand would be on a small scale, say by a brigade group. Realisation of the implications of these calculations stung the New Zealand Government to vehement protest. ‘Candidly I must tell you,’ cabled Fraser to Churchill on 28 February, ‘that my colleagues and I are appalled by this attempt to think in terms of the past, and if this line of thought is persisted in we must brace ourselves to meet the fate of Malaya, and with infinitely less reason or excuse.’ He asked that if this calculation went forward ‘it be accompanied by our very strongest protest’ and a vigorous statement of New Zealand's contrary views. Churchill replied soothingly to this outburst; indeed, the report against which New Zealand had reacted was based on preliminary discussions which he said did not represent the views of the British Chiefs of Staff. In practice, however, the three large measures for New Zealand security which he had in mind amounted to his hopes of persuading America to send adequate naval strength to the Anzac area, to reinforce Fiji and New Caledonia, and to offer troops to New Zealand in compensation for the absence of her Expeditionary Force in the Middle East.2

At this stage New Zealand was pressing primarily for aircraft and for equipment for the army. It was recognised that the ‘most effective insurance against invasion is that given by naval forces, which should with adequate air support intercept any enemy expedition before it reaches New Zealand3.’ Since it was, to say the least, uncertain whether the naval forces available would be adequate, every possible effort was being made to build up the air and land forces in New Zealand. It was painfully clear, however, that New Zealand was utterly dependent on her overseas friends for equipment. Quite apart from her basic industrial weakness, the deliberate policy in the early days of the war had been to rely on overseas supplies. Further, no conceivable disposition of manpower could find, even untrained, more than half the men judged necessary for the local defence of New Zealand.

Similar considerations, even more anxiously weighed, were valid in Australia. In both dominions, therefore, the problem immediately arose of the disposition of their expeditionary forces in northern Africa. This was a matter not only for the two dominions but for the overall strategy of the war. As early as February 1941 Churchill had pointed out to Roosevelt that Japanese raids would cause

1 Liaison Officer, London, to CGS, Wgtn, 25 Feb 1942.

2 PM UK to PM NZ, 4 Mar 1942.

3 PM NZ to Nash, 14 Feb 1942.

page 224 ‘deep anxiety in those Dominions, which have sent all their best trained fighting men to the Middle East’, and would nullify the efforts that had been made to create armies in that area; while any threat of major invasion would have to be met by withdrawing the fleet from the Middle East, with disastrous military consequences.1 The crisis which actually arose in 1942 had the quality that Churchill had foreseen and feared. Japanese warships were indeed not raiding the Dominions' coasts: but the barrier which was to have given security against them had fallen almost overnight, and in circumstances which led many to question the wisdom of British leadership in the past. The logic of the position, as seen by Churchill and Roosevelt, was clear. The chances of direct attack on either dominion remained small. Dominion troops of high fighting quality were established in the critical Middle East theatre. To transport them home would be to establish them, at vast cost in shipping space, in an area where their value in the total war effort would be much less, and where they would fight under conditions totally different from those for which they had been trained. It would be more logical, more economical of men and materials and energy, to protect Australia and New Zealand with American naval forces and by American troops carried across the relatively safe waters of the Pacific.
Yet there was another logic, powerfully felt by the Australian Government, with which New Zealand was closely in touch. This argued that a country's proper defenders were its own citizens, that the realities of Pacific strategy were best judged by those who bore the immediate risks of failure, and that neither London nor Washington had calculated soundly or judged penetratingly on the issues raised by Japanese aggression. A mixture of reason and emotion accordingly laid great stress on the fact that Australia's best troops were serving in the Middle East while their home country was a potential battlefront and liable to invasion by a longfeared enemy. Moreover, in a sharp difference of opinion in the second half of 1941 over the defence of Tobruk, successive Australian governments had insisted on their own judgment in the use of Australians against the strongest military arguments and political pressure that Churchill could bring to bear. The displacement during this crisis of Menzies by the Labour leader Curtin as Prime Minister of Australia increased, for the time being at least, the disposition of the Australian Government to stand independently of British leadership.2 As was to be expected, therefore, the Australians asked, and the British reluctantly agreed, that their

1 Churchill to Roosevelt, 15 Feb 1941.

2 Churchill, Vol. III; Hasluck, pp. 616 ff; McNeill, p. 152.

page 225 troops should return from the Middle East as promptly as possible. Two divisions were at sea, off the coasts of India, when Singapore fell, and an over-hasty suggestion that one of them should be used in Burma brought a further conflict of opinion between the British and Australian governments, and a further firm Australian refusal.1

The sentiments which animated the Australians were felt in New Zealand too. There had long been a strong current of opinion that too much attention was being paid to the European theatre, and not enough to the Pacific and to home defence. With an obviously menacing situation, the natural feeling, both in the Dominion and among the troops, was bluntly expressed by Freyberg–‘if New Zealand is attacked, our place should be at home.’ Furthermore, the political consideration was soon to be added: that New Zealand, as a Pacific country, should have a voice in the decision of Pacific politics, and that the best way to earn this right was by hard fighting in Pacific warfare. These arguments were raised in the community–and in Parliament–backed by reports, mainly from the United States, that large forces were held inactive in Britain while troops from the Dominions were used mercilessly in North Africa.2 Yet New Zealand characteristically gave great weight to Churchill's solid and eloquent arguments, based on the general interest. He had yielded to Australian pressure, and the bulk of their troops were on the way home. To supply shipping to bring the New Zealand Division to the Pacific, and then replacements to the Middle East, would be a further immense drain on resources, and would gravely weaken the Commonwealth's forces in a still vital area. Accordingly, on 5 March Churchill proposed to Roosevelt that an American division should come to New Zealand on the express condition that the NZEF remained in Egypt.3 Five days later he enthusiastically reported the President's approval. ‘You have never asked for the withdrawal of your division, and we have admired the constancy of spirit and devotion to the cause which has animated your government and people. All the more do I feel that this promised aid from the United States will be gratifying4.’

The offer was accepted, but with some unhappiness. Fraser did not ask for the return of the Division, but he pointed out that there would be awkwardness when it became known that Australian troops were being returned to their homeland.5 He reported the ‘feeling which I am told is becoming marked in the Division, that

1 McNeill, p. 153.

2 Documents, II, p. 93.

3 Churchill, Vol. IV, p. 170.

4 SSDA to PM, 10 Mar 1942.

5 On 8 April the Director of Publicity, in a memorandum to editors, asked them to avoid placing undue emphasis upon this news.

page 226 their proper place when their own country is in danger is in the Pacific theatre’; and he added, ‘I must say that we have a lot of sympathy with that point of view, which may well be the cause of grave embarrassment and that before long.’ Moreover, the Government did not at present see the possibility of reinforcing the Division which, with its training and battle experience, ‘would unquestionably be of infinitely greater value to us in this theatre than any American division can be until it has had equal experience.’ Nor was cabinet satisfied with the dates at which the American troops were to arrive or the size of force that was to be provided. An appreciation prepared by the Chief of the New Zealand General Staff had given the land force required for the defence of New Zealand as six divisions. The American division plus what New Zealand could provide for itself would still leave the country two divisions short of this figure.1

Overseas opinion thought New Zealand's estimate of her own needs was somewhat high. The Americans thought four divisions would be fair enough.2 The British Chiefs of Staff put the figure somewhat lower, in a careful calculation at the end of March. They argued that so long as New Caledonia, Fiji and Samoa were held, a Japanese invasion of New Zealand would be ‘extremely difficult if not impracticable.’ If the island groups were lost, invasion would become ‘much more possible’ though still unlikely. If the Japanese should decide to invade New Zealand they could use some ten to eleven divisions, together with a large naval force including five aircraft-carriers (240 aircraft). However, the seizure of a base would be a necessary preliminary to a full-scale invasion, for which operation the Japanese might use one or two divisions. It would be essential to repel this initial attack since ‘to provide sufficient land forces to prevent Japanese occupation once they had established a base in New Zealand would be far beyond the shipping resources of Allied Powers.’ Accordingly the British Chiefs of Staff thought that New Zealand's land forces should stand at two or three divisions.3

This detailed and cogently argued estimate had behind it the principle expressed by Churchill on 15 March: ‘Our great aim must be to regain even a partial initiative, which will make the enemy fearful of every place he holds, instead of our trying to be safe everywhere, for that is utterly impossible’,4 and if it had been taken at its face value no troops at all need have been sent to New Zealand. The New Zealand Government was naturally ill-content with this analysis. It had grave doubts about the ‘appreciations’ by

1 PM NZ to PM UK, 15 Mar 1942.

2 Nash to PM, 29 Apr 1942.

3 Liaison Officer, London, to CGS, Wgtn, 28 Mar 1942.

4 PM UK to PM NZ, 15 Mar 1942.

page 227 overseas military experts, and expressed them about this time with only less heat than did the Australians. Its judgment on the views now expressed by the British Chiefs of Staff was that they had adequately visualised the dangers confronting New Zealand but had failed ‘to carry the matter to its logical and reasonable conclusion, inasmuch as they set forth defence requirements that cannot be reconciled either with the possible scale of attack or the needs of future offensive operations1.’ Yet it could do no other than adopt its customary realistic attitude. Having expressed an individual and cogent judgment, and being willing at appropriate times to urge that decisions be reviewed, New Zealand accepted the inevitable and strove to operate effectively the policy which had in the end been adopted. In March 1942 this meant keeping the NZEF in the Middle East, a decision which was from time to time reviewed, but which inescapably laid on New Zealand a double role for the rest of the war. She maintained a high proportion of her manpower in the Middle East, and yet strove to play her part politically, economically, and militarily in the expanding field of Pacific warfare.

1 PM NZ to Nash, 31 Mar 1942.